The first time I ever renewed my instrument rating I did poorly on the ground portion. I think because I had just aced all the airline transport pilot exams and the instrument rating exam itself didn't seem that long in the past, I felt I knew the material and that it was easy. But while being grilled by the examiner I wasn't properly prepared to apply the concepts. It's a terrible feeling, and I think it was the look of horror on my face as I realized that I was not able to rattle off the answers I should know that made the examiner pass me on the ground. He debriefed me with words to the effect of "I know you'll learn that better now." I believe I have scored perfect marks on the ground on every instrument ride and PPC since, so he was correct. I never take it for granted that I know the material anymore.
This flight test will be an instrument renewal, not a PPC, which is subtly different and I haven't done an instrument renewal for quite a few years, because a PPC counts as a renewal if you ask the examiner to check that box, and there are few circumstances when you wouldn't want him to. So I'm nervous about what I might be asked that I haven't been asked on PPCs, which usually focus more on the airplane itself than on the general instrument questions. I leaf through the CAP GEN and other publications, looking for the killer questions. What has been updated that I haven't paid attention to? I know I can refer to this booklet during the the exam, just as I can in real life, but I don't know what I don't know. I book a briefing with Oak and ask him to quiz me hard to find what I don't know.
He asks me questions and tunes up some of my answers, suggesting much better, thorough answers. He asks me some GPS questions, even though I've opted not to use an unfamiliar GPS on the flight test. We go through the CAP [instrument apporach plate booklet] looking for tricky procedures. I've been to lots of places and keep getting off track telling him stories.
He also examines my calculations and chides me for estimating. I'm used to doing everything in block fuel and rounding in the safest direction, only resorting to exact amounts if the generous block fuel allowances are very close to not being enough fuel. I promise to do it properly for the exam. He thinks he has found an error in my chase chart landing distance calculation, but I suggest that he may have used the take-off weight and winds for the landing calculation, and he did. The nav log should make it clearer what values you are using to calculate. It's an easy slip to make, and a scared candidate on an exam might not realize that the examiner used the wrong starting values, and would accept an error. Or more importantly for real life, a crewmember should be able to check another crewmember's work.
After half an hour Oak says he thinks I'm good. I haven't felt challenged yet, and demand more, "Come on, ask me the stuff you would ask me if I were an overconfident jerk student and you needed to slap me down." He insists that he has given me his hard questions and I've done fine, pointing out a couple that are supposed to be trick questions but for which I overleapt the trick and dug into territory beyond that he wasn't even asking for. I know what ccw means on the description of a departure procedure. I know that twenty/twenty -one feet is the crossover between rounding up and rounding down forecast ceilings. I know how to do cold temperature corrections. I can slide alternate minima. I let him off the hook.
He tells the dispatcher to bill for 40 minutes briefing. I correct that to an hour. "But we weren't really briefing the whole time," he protests.
I explain, "If you waste time telling silly stories, then I don't have to pay for it, but if I waste time telling stories then I have to pay for it." I've been a flight instructor. The weather is good now, but he needs those extra few bucks to make sure he eats in November.
We go flying again and I misread my own writing on the hold clearance, holding on the wrong inbound track until he points it out. I also do a poor circling approach. I momentarily bust the circling minimum on the approach, because I had the straight in one in my head, then after I rescue that quickly enough to score a weak but passing two, I overcompensate for yesterday's too steep approach and descend too low, as I circle through base and final for the runway.
We discuss having another flight but I decide not to. My rating is not long enough expired to require his recommendation for the test: legally I could have taken it with no practice at all. It won't reflect badly on him if I don't pass, and I explain that these are my faults, this is me. I'm not the Top Gun and if ten years and thousands of hours of flying haven't cured me of bonehead moves, then one or two or ten more practice flights won't either. I'll go for the goldilocks circling approach (not too high, not too low) on the exam and try to keep my wits about me.
I thank him for all his help and then go back to the lake to study and fret for a few days, because the flight test is booked for next week.
And here's a guy in China who built his own airplane out of what appears from the photo caption to have been scraps of reclaimed material.